'Why don't men and women really like one another nowadays?' Connie asked Tommy Dukes, who was more or less her oracle.
'Oh, but they do! I don't think since the human species was invented, there has ever been a time when men and women have liked one another as much as they do today. Genuine liking! Take myself. I really like women better than men; they are braver, one can be more frank with them.'
Connie pondered this.
'Ah, yes, but you never have anything to do with them!' she said.
'I? What am I doing but talking perfectly sincerely to a woman at this moment?'
'Yes, talking ...'
'And what more could I do if you were a man, than talk perfectly sincerely to you?'
'Nothing perhaps. But a woman ...'
'A woman wants you to like her and talk to her, and at the same time love her and desire her; and it seems to me the two things are mutually exclusive.'
'But they shouldn't be!'
'No doubt water ought not to be so wet as it is; it overdoes it in wetness. But there it is! I like women and talk to them, and therefore I don't love them and desire them. The two things don't happen at the same time in me.'
'I think they ought to.'
'All right. The fact that things ought to be something else than what they are, is not my department.
Connie considered this. 'It isn't true,' she said. 'Men can love women and talk to them. I don't see how they can love them without talking, and being friendly and intimate. How can they?'
'Well,' he said, 'I don't know. What's the use of my generalizing? I only know my own case. I like women, but I don't desire them. I like talking to them; but talking to them, though it makes me intimate in one direction, sets me poles apart from them as far as kissing is concerned. So there you are! But don't take me as a general example, probably I'm just a special case: one of the men who like women, but don't love women, and even hate them if they force me into a pretence of love, or an entangled appearance.
'But doesn't it make you sad?'
'Why should it? Not a bit! I look at Charlie May, and the rest of the men who have affairs ... No, I don't envy them a bit! If fate sent me a woman I wanted, well and good. Since I don't know any woman I want, and never see one ... why, I presume I'm cold, and really like some women very much.'
'Do you like me?'
'Very much! And you see there's no question of kissing between us, is there?'
'None at all!' said Connie. 'But oughtn't there to be?'
'Why, in God's name? I like Clifford, but what would you say if I went and kissed him?'
'But isn't there a difference?'
'Where does it lie, as far as we're concerned? We're all intelligent human beings, and the male and female business is in abeyance. Just in abeyance. How would you like me to start acting up like a continental male at this moment, and parading the sex thing?'
'I should hate it.'
'Well then! I tell you, if I'm really a male thing at all, I never run across the female of my species. And I don't miss her, I just like women. Who's going to force me into loving or pretending to love them, working up the sex game?'
'No, I'm not. But isn't something wrong?'
'You may feel it, I don't.'
'Yes, I feel something is wrong between men and women. A woman has no glamour for a man any more.'
'Has a man for a woman?'
She pondered the other side of the question.
'Not much,' she said truthfully.
'Then let's leave it all alone, and just be decent and simple, like proper human beings with one another. Be damned to the artificial sex-compulsion! I refuse it!'
Connie knew he was right, really. Yet it left her feeling so forlorn, so forlorn and stray. Like a chip on a dreary pond, she felt. What was the point, of her or anything?
It was her youth which rebelled. These men seemed so old and cold. Everything seemed old and cold. And Michaelis let one down so; he was no good. The men didn't want one; they just didn't really want a woman, even Michaelis didn't.
And the bounders who pretended they did, and started working the sex game, they were worse than ever.
It was just dismal, and one had to put up with it. It was quite true, men had no real glamour for a woman: if you could fool yourself into thinking they had, even as she had fooled herself over Michaelis, that was the best you could do. Meanwhile you just lived on and there was nothing to it. She understood perfectly well why people had cocktail parties, and jazzed, and Charlestoned till they were ready to drop. You had to take it out some way or other, your youth, or it ate you up. But what a ghastly thing, this youth! You felt as old as Methuselah, and yet the thing fizzed somehow, and didn't let you be comfortable. A mean sort of life! And no prospect! She almost wished she had gone off with Mick, and made her life one long cocktail party, and jazz evening. Anyhow that was better than just mooning yourself into the grave.
On one of her bad days she went out alone to walk in the wood, ponderously, heeding nothing, not even noticing where she was. The report of a gun not far off startled and angered her.
Then, as she went, she heard voices, and recoiled. People! She didn't want people. But her quick ear caught another sound, and she roused; it was a child sobbing. At once she attended; someone was ill-treating a child. She strode swinging down the wet drive, her sullen resentment uppermost. She felt just prepared to make a scene.
Turning the corner, she saw two figures in the drive beyond her: the keeper, and a little girl in a purple coat and moleskin cap, crying.
'Ah, shut it up, tha false little bitch!' came the man's angry voice, and the child sobbed louder.
Constance strode nearer, with blazing eyes. The man turned and looked at her, saluting coolly, but he was pale with anger.
'What's the matter? Why is she crying?' demanded Constance, peremptory but a little breathless.
A faint smile like a sneer came on the man's face. 'Nay, yo' mun ax 'er,' he replied callously, in broad vernacular.
Connie felt as if he had hit her in the face, and she changed colour. Then she gathered her defiance, and looked at him, her dark blue eyes blazing rather vaguely.
'I asked you,' she panted.
He gave a queer little bow, lifting his hat. 'You did, your Ladyship,' he said; then, with a return to the vernacular: 'but I canna tell yer.' And he became a soldier, inscrutable, only pale with annoyance.
Connie turned to the child, a ruddy, black-haired thing of nine or ten. 'What is it, dear? Tell me why you're crying!' she said, with the conventionalized sweetness suitable. More violent sobs, self-conscious. Still more sweetness on Connie's part.
'There, there, don't you cry! Tell me what they've done to you!' ... an intense tenderness of tone. At the same time she felt in the pocket of her knitted jacket, and luckily found a sixpence.
'Don't you cry then!' she said, bending in front of the child. 'See what I've got for you!'
Sobs, snuffles, a fist taken from a blubbered face, and a black shrewd eye cast for a second on the sixpence. Then more sobs, but subduing. 'There, tell me what's the matter, tell me!' said Connie, putting the coin into the child's chubby hand, which closed over it.
'It's the ... it's the ... pussy!'
Shudders of subsiding sobs.
'What pussy, dear?'
After a silence the shy fist, clenching on sixpence, pointed into the bramble brake.
Connie looked, and there, sure enough, was a big black cat, stretched out grimly, with a bit of blood on it.
'Oh!' she said in repulsion.
'A poacher, your Ladyship,' said the man satirically.
She glanced at him angrily. 'No wonder the child cried,' she said, 'if you shot it when she was there. No wonder she cried!'
He looked into Connie's eyes, laconic, contemptuous, not hiding his feelings. And again Connie flushed; she felt she had been making a scene, the man did not respect her.
'What is your name?' she said playfully to the child. 'Won't you tell me your name?'
Sniffs; then very affectedly in a piping voice: 'Connie Mellors!'
'Connie Mellors! Well, that's a nice name! And did you come out with your Daddy, and he shot a pussy? But it was a bad pussy!'
The child looked at her, with bold, dark eyes of scrutiny, sizing her up, and her condolence.
'I wanted to stop with my Gran,' said the little girl.
'Did you? But where is your Gran?'
The child lifted an arm, pointing down the drive. 'At th' cottidge.'
'At the cottage! And would you like to go back to her?'
Sudden, shuddering quivers of reminiscent sobs. 'Yes!'
'Come then, shall I take you? Shall I take you to your Gran? Then your Daddy can do what he has to do.' She turned to the man. 'It is your little girl, isn't it?'
He saluted, and made a slight movement of the head in affirmation.
'I suppose I can take her to the cottage?' asked Connie.
'If your Ladyship wishes.'
Again he looked into her eyes, with that calm, searching detached glance. A man very much alone, and on his own.
'Would you like to come with me to the cottage, to your Gran, dear?'
The child peeped up again. 'Yes!' she simpered.
Connie disliked her; the spoilt, false little female. Nevertheless she wiped her face and took her hand. The keeper saluted in silence.
'Good morning!' said Connie.
It was nearly a mile to the cottage, and Connie senior was well bored by Connie junior by the time the game-keeper's picturesque little home was in sight. The child was already as full to the brim with tricks as a little monkey, and so self-assured.
At the cottage the door stood open, and there was a rattling heard inside. Connie lingered, the child slipped her hand, and ran indoors.
'Why, are yer back a'ready!'
The grandmother had been blackleading the stove, it was Saturday morning. She came to the door in her sacking apron, a blacklead-brush in her hand, and a black smudge on her nose. She was a little, rather dry woman.
'Why, whatever?' she said, hastily wiping her arm across her face as she saw Connie standing outside.
'Good morning!' said Connie. 'She was crying, so I just brought her home.'
The grandmother looked around swiftly at the child:
'Why, wheer was yer Dad?'
The little girl clung to her grandmother's skirts and simpered.
'He was there,' said Connie, 'but he'd shot a poaching cat, and the child was upset.'
'Oh, you'd no right t'ave bothered, Lady Chatterley, I'm sure! I'm sure it was very good of you, but you shouldn't 'ave bothered. Why, did ever you see!' — and the old woman turned to the child: 'Fancy Lady Chatterley takin' all that trouble over yer! Why, she shouldn't 'ave bothered!'
'It was no bother, just a walk,' said Connie smiling.
'Why, I'm sure 'twas very kind of you, I must say! So she was crying! I knew there'd be something afore they got far. She's frightened of 'im, that's wheer it is. Seems 'e's almost a stranger to 'er, fair a stranger, and I don't think they're two as 'd hit it off very easy. He's got funny ways.'
Connie didn't know what to say.
'Look, Gran!' simpered the child.
The old woman looked down at the sixpence in the little girl's hand.
'An' sixpence an' all! Oh, your Ladyship, you shouldn't, you shouldn't. Why, isn't Lady Chatterley good to yer! My word, you're a lucky girl this morning!'
She pronounced the name, as all the people did: Chat'ley. — Isn't Lady Chat'ley good to you!' — Connie couldn't help looking at the old woman's nose, and the latter again vaguely wiped her face with the back of her wrist, but missed the smudge.
Connie was moving away 'Well, thank you ever so much, Lady Chat'ley, I'm sure. Say thank you to Lady Chat'ley!' — this last to the child.
'Thank you,' piped the child.
'There's a dear!' laughed Connie, and she moved away, saying 'Good morning', heartily relieved to get away from the contact.
Curious, she thought, that that thin, proud man should have that little, sharp woman for a mother!
And the old woman, as soon as Connie had gone, rushed to the bit of mirror in the scullery, and looked at her face. Seeing it, she stamped her foot with impatience. 'Of course she had to catch me in my coarse apron, and a dirty face! Nice idea she'd get of me!'
Connie went slowly home to Wragby. 'Home!' ... It was a warm word to use for that great, weary warren. But then it was a word that had had its day. It was somehow cancelled. All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great, dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits. As for sex, the last of the great words, it was just a cocktail term for an excitement that bucked you up for a while, then left you more raggy than ever. Frayed! It was as if the very material you were made of was cheap stuff, and was fraying out to nothing.
All that really remained was a stubborn stoicism: and in that there was a certain pleasure. In the very experience of the nothingness of life, phase after phase, étape after étape, there was a certain grisly satisfaction. So that's that! Always this was the last utterance: home, love, marriage, Michaelis: So that's that! And when one died, the last words to life would be: So that's that!
Money? Perhaps one couldn't say the same there. Money one always wanted. Money, Success, the bitch-goddess, as Tommy Dukes persisted in calling it, after Henry James, that was a permanent necessity. You couldn't spend your last sou, and say finally: So that's that! No, if you lived even another ten minutes, you wanted a few more sous for something or other. Just to keep the business mechanically going, you needed money. You had to have it. Money you have to have. You needn't really have anything else. So that's that!
Since, of course, it's not your own fault you are alive. Once you are alive, money is a necessity, and the only absolute necessity. All the rest you can get along without, at a pinch. But not money. Emphatically, that's that!
She thought of Michaelis, and the money she might have had with him; and even that she didn't want. She preferred the lesser amount which she helped Clifford to make by his writing. That she actually helped to make. — 'Clifford and I together, we make twelve hundred a year out of writing'; so she put it to herself. Make money! Make it! Out of nowhere. Wring it out of the thin air! The last feat to be humanly proud of! The rest all-my-eye-Betty-Martin.
So she plodded home to Clifford, to join forces with him again, to make another story out of nothingness: and a story meant money. Clifford seemed to care very much whether his stories were considered first-class literature or not. Strictly, she didn't care. Nothing in it! said her father. Twelve hundred pounds last year! was the retort simple and final.
If you were young, you just set your teeth, and bit on and held on, till the money began to flow from the invisible; it was a question of power. It was a question of will; a subtle, subtle, powerful emanation of will out of yourself brought back to you the mysterious nothingness of money: a word on a bit of paper. It was a sort of magic, certainly it was triumph. The bitch-goddess! Well, if one had to prostitute oneself, let it be to a bitch-goddess! One could always despise her even while one prostituted oneself to her, which was good.
Clifford, of course, had still many childish taboos and fetishes. He wanted to be thought 'really good', which was all cock-a-hoopy nonsense. What was really good was what actually caught on. It was no good being really good and getting left with it. It seemed as if most of the 'really good' men just missed the bus. After all you only lived one life, and if you missed the bus, you were just left on the pavement, along with the rest of the failures.
Connie was contemplating a winter in London with Clifford, next winter. He and she had caught the bus all right, so they might as well ride on top for a bit, and show it.
The worst of it was, Clifford tended to become vague, absent, and to fall into fits of vacant depression. It was the wound to his psyche coming out. But it made Connie want to scream. Oh God, if the mechanism of the consciousness itself was going to go wrong, then what was one to do? Hang it all, one did one's bit! Was one to be let down absolutely?
Sometimes she wept bitterly, but even as she wept she was saying to herself: Silly fool, wetting hankies! As if that would get you anywhere!
Since Michaelis, she had made up her mind she wanted nothing. That seemed the simplest solution of the otherwise insoluble. She wanted nothing more than what she'd got; only she wanted to get ahead with what she'd got: Clifford, the stories, Wragby, the Lady-Chatterley business, money and fame, such as it was ... she wanted to go ahead with it all. Love, sex, all that sort of stuff, just water-ices! Lick it up and forget it. If you don't hang on to it in your mind, it's nothing. Sex especially ... nothing! Make up your mind to it, and you've solved the problem. Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing.
But a child, a baby! That was still one of the sensations. She would venture very gingerly on that experiment. There was the man to consider, and it was curious, there wasn't a man in the world whose children you wanted. Mick's children! Repulsive thought! As lief have a child to a rabbit! Tommy Dukes? ... He was very nice, but somehow you couldn't associate him with a baby, another generation. He ended in himself. And out of all the rest of Clifford's pretty wide acquaintance, there was not a man who did not rouse her contempt, when she thought of having a child by him. There were several who would have been quite possible as lover, even Mick. But to let them breed a child on you! Ugh! Humiliation and abomination.
So that was that!
Nevertheless, Connie had the child at the back of her mind. Wait! Wait! She would sift the generations of men through her sieve, and see if she couldn't find one who would do. — 'Go ye into the streets and by ways of Jerusalem, and see if you can find a man.' It had been impossible to find a man in the Jerusalem of the prophet, though there were thousands of male humans. But a man! C'est une autre chose!
She had an idea that he would have to be a foreigner: not an Englishman, still less an Irishman. A real foreigner.
But wait! Wait! Next winter she would get Clifford to London; the following winter she would get him abroad to the South of France, Italy. Wait! She was in no hurry about the child. That was her own private affair, and the one point on which, in her own queer, female way, she was serious to the bottom of her soul. She was not going to risk any chance comer, not she! One might take a lover almost at any moment, but a man who should beget a child on one ... wait! Wait! It's a very different matter. — 'Go ye into the streets and byways of Jerusalem ...' It was not a question of love; it was a question of a man. Why, one might even rather hate him, personally. Yet if he was the man, what would one's personal hate matter? This business concerned another part of oneself.
It had rained as usual, and the paths were too sodden for Clifford's chair, but Connie would go out. She went out alone every day now, mostly in the wood, where she was really alone. She saw nobody there.
This day, however, Clifford wanted to send a message to the keeper, and as the boy was laid up with influenza, somebody always seemed to have influenza at Wragby, Connie said she would call at the cottage.
The air was soft and dead, as if all the world were slowly dying. Grey and clammy and silent, even from the shuffling of the collieries, for the pits were working short time, and today they were stopped altogether. The end of all things!
In the wood all was utterly inert and motionless, only great drops fell from the bare boughs, with a hollow little crash. For the rest, among the old trees was depth within depth of grey, hopeless inertia, silence, nothingness.
Connie walked dimly on. From the old wood came an ancient melancholy, somehow soothing to her, better than the harsh insentience of the outer world. She liked the inwardness of the remnant of forest, the unspeaking reticence of the old trees. They seemed a very power of silence, and yet a vital presence. They, too, were waiting: obstinately, stoically waiting, and giving off a potency of silence. Perhaps they were only waiting for the end; to be cut down, cleared away, the end of the forest, for them the end of all things. But perhaps their strong and aristocratic silence, the silence of strong trees, meant something else.
As she came out of the wood on the north side, the keeper's cottage, a rather dark, brown stone cottage, with gables and a handsome chimney, looked uninhabited, it was so silent and alone. But a thread of smoke rose from the chimney, and the little railed-in garden in the front of the house was dug and kept very tidy. The door was shut.
Now she was here she felt a little shy of the man, with his curious far-seeing eyes. She did not like bringing him orders, and felt like going away again. She knocked softly, no one came. She knocked again, but still not loudly. There was no answer. She peeped through the window, and saw the dark little room, with its almost sinister privacy, not wanting to be invaded.
She stood and listened, and it seemed to her she heard sounds from the back of the cottage. Having failed to make herself heard, her mettle was roused, she would not be defeated.
So she went round the side of the house. At the back of the cottage the land rose steeply, so the back yard was sunken, and enclosed by a low stone wall. She turned the corner of the house and stopped. In the little yard two paces beyond her, the man was washing himself, utterly unaware. He was naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping down over his slender loins. And his white slim back was curved over a big bowl of soapy water, in which he ducked his head, shaking his head with a queer, quick little motion, lifting his slender white arms, and pressing the soapy water from his ears, quick, subtle as a weasel playing with water, and utterly alone. Connie backed away round the corner of the house, and hurried away to the wood. In spite of herself, she had had a shock. After all, merely a man washing himself, commonplace enough, Heaven knows!
Yet in some curious way it was a visionary experience: it had hit her in the middle of the body. She saw the clumsy breeches slipping down over the pure, delicate, white loins, the bones showing a little, and the sense of aloneness, of a creature purely alone, overwhelmed her. Perfect, white, solitary nudity of a creature that lives alone, and inwardly alone. And beyond that, a certain beauty of a pure creature. Not the stuff of beauty, not even the body of beauty, but a lambency, the warm, white flame of a single life, revealing itself in contours that one might touch: a body!
Connie had received the shock of vision in her womb, and she knew it; it lay inside her. But with her mind she was inclined to ridicule. A man washing himself in a back yard! No doubt with evil-smelling yellow soap! She was rather annoyed; why should she be made to stumble on these vulgar privacies?
So she walked away from herself, but after a while she sat down on a stump. She was too confused to think. But in the coil of her confusion, she was determined to deliver her message to the fellow. She would not be balked. She must give him time to dress himself, but not time to go out. He was probably preparing to go out somewhere.
So she sauntered slowly back, listening. As she came near, the cottage looked just the same. A dog barked, and she knocked at the door, her heart beating in spite of herself.
She heard the man coming lightly downstairs. He opened the door quickly, and startled her. He looked uneasy himself, but instantly a laugh came on his face.
'Lady Chatterley!' he said. 'Will you come in?'
His manner was so perfectly easy and good, she stepped over the threshold into the rather dreary little room.
'I only called with a message from Sir Clifford,' she said in her soft, rather breathless voice.
The man was looking at her with those blue, all-seeing eyes of his, which made her turn her face aside a little. He thought her comely, almost beautiful, in her shyness, and he took command of the situation himself at once.
'Would you care to sit down?' he asked, presuming she would not. The door stood open.
'No thanks! Sir Clifford wondered if you would ... ' and she delivered her message, looking unconsciously into his eyes again. And now his eyes looked warm and kind, particularly to a woman, wonderfully warm, and kind, and at ease.
'Very good, your Ladyship. I will see to it at once.'
Taking an order, his whole self had changed, glazed over with a sort of hardness and distance. Connie hesitated, she ought to go. But she looked round the clean, tidy, rather dreary little sitting-room with something like dismay.
'Do you live here quite alone?' she asked.
'Quite alone, your Ladyship.'
'But your mother ...?'
'She lives in her own cottage in the village.'
'With the child?' asked Connie.
'With the child!'
And his plain, rather worn face took on an indefinable look of derision. It was a face that changed all the time, baking.
'No,' he said, seeing Connie stand at a loss, 'my mother comes and cleans up for me on Saturdays; I do the rest myself.'
Again Connie looked at him. His eyes were smiling again, a little mockingly, but warm and blue, and somehow kind. She wondered at him. He was in trousers and flannel shirt and a grey tie, his hair soft and damp, his face rather pale and worn-looking. When the eyes ceased to laugh they looked as if they had suffered a great deal, still without losing their warmth. But a pallor of isolation came over him, she was not really there for him.
She wanted to say so many things, and she said nothing. Only she looked up at him again, and remarked:
'I hope I didn't disturb you?'
The faint smile of mockery narrowed his eyes.
'Only combing my hair, if you don't mind. I'm sorry I hadn't a coat on, but then I had no idea who was knocking. Nobody knocks here, and the unexpected sounds ominous.'
He went in front of her down the garden path to hold the gate. In his shirt, without the clumsy velveteen coat, she saw again how slender he was, thin, stooping a little. Yet, as she passed him, there was something young and bright in his fair hair, and his quick eyes. He would be a man about thirty-seven or eight.
She plodded on into the wood, knowing he was looking after her; he upset her so much, in spite of herself.
And he, as he went indoors, was thinking: 'She's nice, she's real! She's nicer than she knows.'
She wondered very much about him; he seemed so unlike a game-keeper, so unlike a working-man anyhow; although he had something in common with the local people. But also something very uncommon.
'The game-keeper, Mellors, is a curious kind of person,' she said to Clifford; 'he might almost be a gentleman.'
'Might he?' said Clifford. 'I hadn't noticed.'
'But isn't there something special about him?' Connie insisted.
'I think he's quite a nice fellow, but I know very little about him. He only came out of the army last year, less than a year ago. From India, I rather think. He may have picked up certain tricks out there, perhaps he was an officer's servant, and improved on his position. Some of the men were like that. But it does them no good, they have to fall back into their old places when they get home again.'
Connie gazed at Clifford contemplatively. She saw in him the peculiar tight rebuff against anyone of the lower classes who might be really climbing up, which she knew was characteristic of his breed.
'But don't you think there is something special about him?' she asked.
'Frankly, no! Nothing I had noticed.'
He looked at her curiously, uneasily, half-suspiciously. And she felt he wasn't telling her the real truth; he wasn't telling himself the real truth, that was it. He disliked any suggestion of a really exceptional human being. People must be more or less at his level, or below it.
Connie felt again the tightness, niggardliness of the men of her generation. They were so tight, so scared of life!